Archive for May, 2006

Bloggity-blah

Tuesday, May 30th, 2006

I have nothing to write about today.

And in the true spirit that defines everything that’s good, decent and holy about the Blogosphere, here I am writing a post about the fact that I have nothing to write about. What a wonderful medium this is! But just as I was about to write about having nothing to write about, a flash of inspiration hit me: what if I wrote a song about writing about having nothing to write about? (You still with me? I think that was a triple-negative.) Yeah! That’s it! Then I can write about nothing, and still have written about something. Wait, isn’t that how Seinfeld became a hit?

So anyway, let’s bring on the band here … hey fellas … here we go, try to imagine in your head a little 8-bar walkin’ blues, maybe an E-A-B chord progression, kind of medium-quick tempo. Got it? Yeah, that’s it. OK, now we’re doin’ a funky little opening guitar riff here, and when it comes around again, lemme sing y’all this little ditty I call …

The Bloggin Blues

Sometimes we full of fire
Sometimes we wanna write
The woids flow through our fingers
Dey keep us up all night

But then the woids dey fail us
No matter how we try
We stare and wait and wonder
Why de well has done run dry

(Chorus)
I gots dem bloggin blues
Baby I just caint find my Muse
Yes I gots de bloggin blues
Sugar I cannot find my Muse
Nuthins shakin in the news
You know I gots dem bloggin blues

I’ve got a hundred web sites
That I visit every day
I loves to read dem stories
Bout whut peoples have to say

But when at last it’s my turn
To spin a clever word
My intellect deserts me
And ah’m feelin like a turd

I gots dem bloggin blues
Sugar I cannot find my Muse
Yeah baby I got dem bloggin blues
And I’m lookin for my Muse
If I only had some views
I would not have dese bloggin blues

(funky blues guitar instrumental break here – yowsah!)

I called my friend in Jersey
He ask “what up wit dat”
Man you lost yo inspiration
You postin pictures of yo cat

I’ve lost my sense of humor
Got nuthin left to give
And if I can’t think o’ somethin
Ah’ll surely lose mah will to live

I got dem bloggin blues
Honey I cannot find my Muse
Yes I got dem bloggin blues
Sugar I sure have lost my Muse
Ah’m feelin so confused
Lord I got dem bloggin blues

(Repeat Chorus)

No I cannot be excused
Honey I gots dem low down
dirty rotten
mean n nasty
half-baked
refried
good fo nuthin
motherfuckin

(dramatic pause, deep breath, then big finale)

Baby you know i gots dem bloggin……
Bluuuuuuu …. esssssss

Thank you. Thank you very much. And don’t forget to tip your waitress, she’s workin’ hard out there for ya.

© 2006, Toasted Tunes Music; Woodlake Media

The writer’s prayer

Sunday, May 28th, 2006

As I’ve mentioned here before, I ain’t no writer.

That fact should be painfully obvious to anyone reading this.

But I do write. The topics may be pedestrian, my syntax may be fractured, and I overuse certain words and punctuation, mostly adjectives and commas (which this sentence already contains way too many of), but I still try to pound out something on a semi-regular basis. I do this mostly because it’s a creative outlet for me, and occasionally I feel like I actually do have something to say — not because I like to see my words on the screen or that I’m a comment-whore. (But hey, we bloggers do love the validation of those comments, don’t we?)

However, being part of the Blogosphere for the last eight or nine months has brought me into contact with a number of real writers, those with publishing aspirations and serious talent. They write well — I mean professional-quality well — and I have developed new respect and admiration for those who can string together words and phrases in such a way as to have an emotional impact on the reader. Some have even made the quantum leap from being simply “writers” to being authors, a major distinction.

The following story is particularly inspirational to me: a young man once professed a desire to become a great writer. When asked to define “great” he said, “I want to write stuff that the whole world will read, stuff that people will react to on a truly emotional level, stuff that will make them scream, cry, wail, howl in pain, desperation, and anger!”

Today, he works for Microsoft, writing Excel error messages. Dreams do come true.

It’s not that I was illiterate before discovering blogs, mind you, but I just never paid much attention to writing as a process or a discipline. Books and magazine articles were just there — like dishes or furniture, or any other household object — and I never thought much about what went into creating them. But now that I’ve developed an appreciation for the dedication that goes into the craft of writing, the following “writer’s prayer”, penned by one Rachael Sauer of Cox News Service and lifted from todays newspaper, makes sense to me. It invokes the memory of Christopher Marlowe, a Renaissance playwright and poet widely regarded alongside William Shakespeare as one of the greatest wordsmiths of all time, and is a plea that writers can recite to atone for their literary sins:

Hail Marlowe, full of truth
And the rightful use of adjectives
Give us this day our artful phrase
And cast from us all histrionics
And car chases.
Forgive us our Jonathan Livingston Seagull
As we forgive Erich Segal.
And yea, though we walk through the shadow of the Valley of The Dolls
We will fear no pulp fiction
For thou art with us.

I dedicate this to all the real writers out there. You know who you are. Maybe some day I’ll be able to join your ranks. I’ve got a hope, and now, a prayer to go with it.

Amen.


The Writer, by Diana Golledge

Memorial Day

Saturday, May 27th, 2006

I hope everyone is enjoying the long holiday weekend. While you’re having a good time cooking BBQ, visiting the lake or park, or just spending an extra day to relax with your family, please take just a moment to remember why it’s called “Memorial Day” — a day to honor and thank those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country. Although Memorial Day honors the casualties of all previous conflicts, these days the focus is on Iraq. Whether or not you support the politics behind our military presence there, the soldiers who are doing the dirty work, taking the risks, and most significantly — losing their lives, deserve our respect.

In this spirit of reflection and appreciation, I’d like to offer the following essay entitled “Night Watch”, written by Roy Popkin. Although not specifically about veterans of combat, it’s a moving story that I dedicate to servicemen worldwide who, as they do every weekend including this one, are simply doing their jobs as best as they can with the tools they have been given. I may not agree with the reasons why, but I salute you nevertheless. God bless you; may you come home safe, and soon.

-0-

A nurse took the tired, anxious serviceman to the bedside. “Your son is here,” she said to the old man. She had to repeat the words several times before the patient’s eyes opened. Heavily sedated because of the pain of his heart attack, he dimly saw the young uniformed Marine standing outside the oxygen tent. He reached out his hand. The Marine wrapped his toughened fingers around the old man’s limp ones, squeezing a message of love and encouragement. The nurse brought a chair so that the Marine could sit beside the bed.

All through the night the young Marine sat there in the poorly lighted ward, holding the old man’s hand and offering him words of love and strength.

Occasionally, the nurse suggested that the Marine move away and rest awhile. He refused. Whenever the nurse came into the ward, the Marine was oblivious of her and of the night noises of the hospital – the clanking of the oxygen tank, the laughter of the night staff members exchanging greetings, the cries and moans of the other patients. Now and then she heard him say a few gentle words. The dying man said nothing, only held tightly to his son all through the night. Along towards dawn, the old man died. The Marine released the now lifeless hand he had been holding and went to tell the nurse. While she did what she had to do, he waited. Finally, she returned. She started to offer words of sympathy, but the Marine interrupted her. “Who was that man?” he asked.

The nurse was startled, “Why, he was your father!” she answered.

“No, he wasn’t,” the Marine replied. “I never saw him before in my life.”

“Then why didn’t you say something when I took you to him?” “I knew right away there had been a mistake, but I also knew he needed his son, and his son just wasn’t here. When I realized that he was too sick to tell whether or not I was his son, knowing how much he needed me. I stayed.”

The next time someone needs you…be there. Stay. You’ll be glad you did.

Happy Talk

Saturday, May 27th, 2006

A recent blog post got me thinking about Rodgers & Hammerstein’s classic World-War-II musical “South Pacific” which premiered on Broadway in April of 1949, and remains a popular favorite to this day. (It is currently being staged at Houston’s Masquerade Theatre.) Set in the Solomon Islands in 1943, it is the story of a small-town US Navy nurse named Nellie who falls in love with Emile de Becque, a French planter and island resident, and the drama that unfolds as the war’s action gets closer. I can remember my parents taking me to see this show at the North Shore Music Theatre near our home in Beverly, Mass. in 1960 when I was about twelve years old. Although I can’t recall that it made much of an impression on me at the time, the music has stuck with me through the years. This song was always my favorite:

Some enchanted evening
You may see a stranger,
you may see a stranger
Across a crowded room
And somehow you know,
You know even then
That somewhere you’ll see her
Again and again.

Some enchanted evening
Someone may be laughin’,
You may hear her laughin’
Across a crowded room
And night after night,
As strange as it seems
The sound of her laughter
Will sing in your dreams.

Who can explain it?
Who can tell you why?
Fools give you reasons,
Wise men never try.

Some enchanted evening
When you find your true love,
When you feel her call you
Across a crowded room,
Then fly to her side,
And make her your own
For all through your life you
May dream all alone.

Once you have found her,
Never let her go.
Once you have found her,
Never let her go!

For some strange reason, I am fond of singing this particular tune in the shower. I assume my deepest baritone voice and belt out “Some enchanted evening, you will see a stranger, across a….” (at this point I take a big slug of water from the shower head into my mouth, and gargle the word…) “crrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrow” (spit) “…ded room” … what can I say? I amuse easily.

Still, I think this song epitomizes the nature of romance. What could be more thrilling than sensing a kindred spirit for the first time in a crowded public place, and knowing that your life will never be the same again? Who can explain how love begins? “Fools give you reasons, wise men never try”.

Here’s to your romantic nature!

Lewis update

Friday, May 26th, 2006

Taking seriously this blog’s mission to keep the entire nation (well, at least the five or six people who read this) updated on the status of Lewis The Crazy Cat, here’s the latest CatBlogging Friday news:

As you may recall, owner Ruth Cisero (with Lewis, right) recently withdrew her bid for accelerated rehabilitation on the charge of reckless endangerment and opted for trial, because she would have had to agree to have Lewis euthanized. At her appearance this week in Bridgeport Superior Court, a hearing was set for June 20 to determine whether she could get the special terms and also have her cat’s life spared. Essentially, she was asking for the same conditions of being placed on probation (which would eventually lead to the charges being dismissed), without the stipulation of having Lewis put down — the reason she had rejected the earlier plea bargain offer. Her attorney Eugene Riccio said, “She’s on pins and needles. The animal is important to her. It’s a member of her family.”

The media frenzy surrounding the fate of Lewis, who allegedly attacked several people in Cisero’s Sunset Circle neighborhood of Fairfield, Connecticut, has only intensified since the previous court date. Not only does Lewis have his own MySpace page, but national coverage has included articles in the New York Times, as well as segments on major TV networks including CNN, Fox and CBS News. At Tuesday’s hearing, a throng of reporters and several satellite trucks gathered outside the courthouse. Numerous supporters, protesters, and animal rights activists, some sporting “Save Lewis” T-shirts, were also present to observe the proceedings. “There are killers out there that don’t get put to death,” said one. Another added, “He should be free to run around and be a cat.”

In all fairness, and as much as I think the clamor to have Lewis put to death is absurd, I must disagree with that last statement. As a number of comments to my last post on Lewis pointed out, there are many dangers to cats who are allowed to roam, especially in urban environments. Had Cisero kept Lewis indoors, he would not be in the predicament he finds himself today. And most certainly, for Cisero to allow Lewis outdoors after receiving the court order to keep him indoors, and knowing that he had injured someone, was irresponsible and foolish.

Interestingly, there is a new judge hearing the case, and it’s possible that this very blog may have played some small part in that development. One of the comments to my earlier post came from the son-in-law of previous judge Susan Reynolds, who was upset about the publicity generated by the case and wrote:

It’s a wild animal – if it were a raccoon or a possum, it would have been shot on-site (sic). But it looks cute and cuddly so everyone is standing up to defend it. Unbelievable.

A reporter called my mother in law to get her opinion on the case, and she said to him, “on the same day as this case, I heard one about a man who killed his girlfriend, and an arson case where the whole house burned down and killed three people, and you want to talk about this cat.”

If Reynold’s son-in-law made these same comments in other forums besides this blog where they were more widely disseminated, that fact could easily be perceived to indicate prejudice on the part of Judge Reynolds. However, this is merely speculation on my part, as the reason Reynolds turned the proceedings over to new judge Patrick Carroll has not been publicly disclosed; perhaps if my commenter returns he can clarify this for us. In any event, Judge Carroll will consider the probation request when the case reconvenes on June 20th.

Meanwhile, there’s some new designs over at the Save Lewis store. Drop by if you’d like to show your support by purchasing a T-shirt, mouse pad, coffee mug, or other tchatchke. Be part of a movement!

Confirmed: I am a freak of nature

Thursday, May 25th, 2006

I am a medical mystery, wrapped in an enigma, surrounded by a conundrum; I know this because my pulmonologist has told me so. Somewhere in Houston, perhaps at this very moment, various medical professionals are scratching their heads, consulting research journals and discussing with their peers the unexpected good news that I have continued to show a very slight improvement. My pulmonary function test results from this week were up about 15% from the last similar measurements observed in December 2005.

While this is great news for me, and I should probably just accept it at that and let it go, the greater impact of this development is unclear. It’s very unusual for anyone with Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis (IPF) to show any significant improvement. There is little disagreement in the medical community that pulmonary fibrosis is a terminal illness, a view supported by the clinical histories of thousands of IPF patients over the last twenty years or so. Data shows that the overwhelming majority of those diagnosed with IPF who do not receive lung transplantation will die within two to five years. While pulmonary function test results may bounce around slightly from month to month, the slow and continuous deterioration in lung capacity over the long term eventually results in respiratory or cardiac failure due to the inability of the lungs to keep the blood sufficiently saturated with oxygen. For someone to show a continuous improvement (albeit a very small one), as these latest results indicate, is virtually unheard of.

There are several possible reasons for this. The most obvious theory is medication: I am enrolled in a clinical trial of an experimental drug called pirfenidone, and if it is in fact working, it could explain the improvement. This was the reason for my visit this week to “Dr. M.”, the pulmonologist who is supervising my participation in this program, and the one who conducted these tests. However, there is no way to verify this theory at present. Although initial results have been encouraging (including a similar 2005 study in Japan), this trial in which I am enrolled is ongoing and results won’t be analyzed and published for a couple of years yet.

Another hypothesis is that I was misdiagnosed in the first place, and I could have something other than IPF. There are a number of other conditions that can result in scarring of the lungs, and while most of the obvious ones were ruled out in my case, something else as yet undiscovered could be responsible. To investigate this more thoroughly, Dr. M. and I have made the decision to biopsy a suspicious section of my left lung in about a month or two, so I will have yet another exciting hospital visit to look forward to.

The next immediate step is that I’ll meet with my lung transplant doctor (“Dr. S.”) on June 8th, and he will make the decision then whether to keep me on standby for another three months, or change my recipient candidate status to “active” and proceed with the transplant surgery as soon as a suitable donor lung becomes available. Given these most recent results obtained by Dr. M., however, it seems much more likely that we will continue with the wait-and-see approach for at least a little while longer. Fortunately, even though Dr. M. and Dr. S. work for different competing hospitals under separate administrative systems, they are consulting and cooperating with each other, so I’m getting the best of both worlds.

Finally, another possible explanation that cannot be ignored is the chance that I may have been blessed by a small miracle. For this case, I have a modest band of supporters to thank from the bottom of my heart, including the readers of this blog. Please know how much I appreciate your prayers and well-wishes, you guys; never underestimate the healing power of love.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one

Sunday, May 21st, 2006

I need to take a short break for the first half of this week, as I am going to Houston to be poked, prodded, CT-scanned, and asked to blow into tubes by various medical professionals. I can’t begin to tell you how much fun this will be.

It never ends. (*sigh*)

But in keeping with this theme, here’s a very old joke before I go on hiatus:

A man brought a limp dog into the veterinary clinic. As he lay the dog on the table, the doctor pulled out his stethoscope, and listened to the dog’s chest. After a moment or two, the vet shook his head sadly and said, “I’m sorry sir, but your dog is dead.”

“What?” screamed the man. “How can you tell? You haven’t done any testing on him or anything. I want another opinion!”

With that, the vet turned and left the room. In a few moments, he returned with a black Labrador Retriever. The Retriever went right to work, checking the poor dead dog out thoroughly with his nose. After a considerable amount of sniffing, the Retriever sadly shook his head and in a mournful tone said, “Bark”.

The veterinarian then took the Labrador out and returned in a few moments with a cat, who also carefully sniffed out the poor dog on the table. As had his predecessor, the cat sadly shook his head and said, “Meow” He then jumped off the table and ran out of the room.

The veterinarian said “I’m sorry, but there’s no doubt whatsoever. Your dog is definitely dead.” The man finally sighed and said “OK, doc. I believe you. How much do I owe you?” The vet then handed the man a bill for $600. The dog’s owner went berserk. “$600! Just to tell me my dog is dead? This is outrageous!”

The vet shook his head and explained. “If you had taken my word for it, the charge would have been $50, but you insisted on Lab tests and a cat scan.”

Hyuk Hyuk. Regular blogging will resume on Thursday.


Cat Scan

Politics for the moderately confused

Friday, May 19th, 2006

The political landscape these days can be very confusing. Conflicting values and party planks are sometimes hard to figure out, and if you’re a middle-of-the-road swing voter, you may not be sure if your stand on the various issues makes you liberal, conservative, Republican, or Democrat. So with mid-term elections coming up, and jockeying for position in the 2008 presidential race already underway, the management of Wind In The Wire (with apologies to Jeff Foxworthy) presents this helpful guide entitled: “You Might Be A Republican”.

If Jesus loves you, and shares your hatred of homosexuals and Hillary Clinton, well then…you might be a Republican.

If you think Saddam was a good guy when Reagan armed him, a bad guy when Bush’s daddy made war on him, a good guy when Cheney did business with him, and a bad guy when Bush needed a “we can’t find Bin Laden” diversion, then you might be a Republican.

If you agree that a president lying about an extramarital affair is an impeachable offense, but a president lying to enlist support for a war in which thousands die is solid defense policy… then you might be a Republican.

If you think any of the following statements are true:

• Global warming and tobacco’s link to cancer are junk science, but that Creationism and Intelligent Design should be taught in schools.

• Trade with Cuba is wrong because the country is Communist, but trade with China and Vietnam is vital to a spirit of international harmony.

• The United States should get out of the United Nations, and our highest national priority is enforcing U.N. resolutions against Iraq.

• A woman can’t be trusted with decisions about her own body, but multi-national corporations can make decisions affecting all mankind without regulation.

• The best way to improve military morale is to praise the troops in speeches, while slashing veterans’ benefits and combat pay.

• If condoms are kept out of schools, adolescents won’t have sex.

• A good way to fight terrorism is to belittle our long-time allies, then demand their cooperation and money.

• Providing health care to all Iraqis is sound policy, but providing health care to all Americans is socialism.

• HMOs and insurance companies have the best interests of the public at heart.

• Government should limit itself to the powers named in the Constitution, which include banning gay marriages and censoring the Internet.

• The public has a right to know about Hillary’s cattle trades, but George Bush’s driving record is none of our business.

• Being a drug addict is a moral failing and a crime, unless you’re a conservative radio host. Then it’s an illness and you need our prayers for your recovery.

• What Bill Clinton did in the 1960s is of vital national interest, but what Bush did in the ’80s is irrelevant.

…then, you very well might be a Republican.

Remember: friends don’t let friends vote Republican.

Clearing the (cough) air

Thursday, May 18th, 2006

It’s occurred to me that anyone reading my posts this week who either does not know me well or is new to this blog (or both) might come to several unflattering conclusions about this “Mr. Toast” fellow:

1. That I am an Old Fart.
2. I was a drug addict.
3. I’m a conceited, craven name-dropper.

So in the interest of full disclosure, let me address these provocative allegations one at a time. First of all, the age thing: guilty as charged. Born smack-dab in the middle of the post-war baby boom, I am a Bona Fide Old Fucker at 57 years of age, which makes me older than most of my blog readers. So what? Age is a relative thing, and there is much truth to the cliche that “you’re only as old as you feel”. To be honest, I’m proud of my boomer status. Every generation has its strengths; my father and others of his age defended freedom by winning the second world war, and if I had a son or daughter, I could point with pride to their generation’s accomplishments in science, medicine, and technology.

We boomers have a lot to our credit. Our generation made some of the best art and music in modern history, and we were social activists and idealists who tried to make the world a better place. Sometimes we succeeded. Many of us were indeed catalysts of change who pushed the envelope, taking America on a wild ride from the stuffy, up-tight, button-down mindset of the 50′s into the liberated, swinging 60′s and beyond. But this is not to say that there weren’t missteps as well; for example, while the emphasis on “free love” seemed admirable and completely natural at the time, it also led to much emotional turmoil and the rampant spread of sexually-transmitted diseases. And many critics point to the widespread drug use during the time as creating a wealth of social problems still being grappled with today, which brings me to my second point.

Yes, I smoked a lot of dope in the 60′s and 70′s, but I quit a very long time ago. Fortunately for me, I never progressed beyond anything stronger than pot, and it resulted in no addiction or other lasting effects except perhaps for my current admittedly warped sense of humor. In my defense, anyone from that era will attest that smoking marijuana was an accepted social custom about as common as having a drink is today. Of course, we live in a different world now, and while I think the personal use of cannabis in this country should be decriminalized and regulated (as it is in parts of The Netherlands, for example), I would not advocate its use to anyone today for a number of reasons — not least of all due to its illegal status. It’s simply not worth risking jail time just to get high. I know that a lot of parents feel hypocritical telling their kids to “just say no” when they themselves once indulged as I did, and that’s a legitimate concern.

Finally, the name-dropper charge, to which I plead no contest. Back then, as now, I was an ordinary guy who didn’t run in any stratified social circles. I was just as awestruck by celebrities as anyone else, and it was simply amazing beyond belief to me that I actually got to rub elbows with these people for a few moments in time. What impressed me then was how “normal” they seemed despite their star status. They had managed to achieve fame, but underneath the public image was a real person that comparatively few others got to see, and I felt fortunate to be able to do so briefly. I don’t blog about it now to brag or to feel important, but merely to reminisce about what were some of the most memorable events of my lifetime. Everyone has equally memorable moments of their own.

As Elvis Costello says, “what’s so funny about peace, love, and understanding?”

Mr. Toast’s close brush with fame part 2: in which I party with The Pearl

Wednesday, May 17th, 2006

By mid-1969 my stay in St. Thomas, which had started out as a brief vacation to get my head together after college, had turned into a permanent residency. I had moved out of my sister’s place near Charlotte Amalie and into a house on the far western end of the island with my good friend, a fellow named Ted. His parents lived and worked on the mainland (exactly where was never really established) and had bought the house for their future retirement. Ted lived there as sort of a caretaker, so again, I was fortunate not to have to pay rent.

Ted and I were some serious party animals back in those days. While our place was not anywhere close to the mansion status of Norm Willock’s Lime Tree, we nevertheless made it into the ultimate bachelor pad. Located a little way from the coast and perched on the side of a steep hill, our lack of a private beach was more than compensated for by a spectacularly panoramic view of the Caribbean below. The house was semi-isolated and featured a huge wooden sundeck off the main floor. This deck became our prime party area, along with the home’s small-ish finished basement room, which we referred to as “The Pit”. The Pit had the most awesome stereo system possible for the day, and also sported dark floor-to-ceiling curtains, thick plush carpet, and abundant huge velvet cushions to lay on while listening to music. Of course, we also put up psychedelic posters and black lights to complete the effect. So much weed was smoked in The Pit over the course of several months that it was almost possible to get high just from walking into the room and inhaling deeply.

Ted did not work, but received an allowance from his folks. However, there were bills to pay … telephone, electricity, and groceries, for example. Besides this, Ted preferred to spend his money on pot, which he bought a lot of. This also meant he frequently was broke, and I often wound up paying all the bills. At one of our parties Ted and I became friends with a guy named Mike, and when Mike later found himself in need of a place to stay, he jumped at the chance to move in with us and help out financially.

Unlike Ted and I, Mike was an exceedingly handsome man, with strong, chiseled features and long sandy blonde hair. He worked out regularly and was in great shape. We unashamedly used Mike as “chick bait” when we would go to bars in town, as he never failed to attract the attention of beautiful women. The dating scene in St. Thomas was very transient then; most of the women we met were there on a two-week vacation, or perhaps for the summer at most, so it was generally not possible to form any lasting relationships. As you might expect, people on vacation in such a sensuous place as the Virgin Islands tend to throw caution to the wind and be much less inhibited than they are back home, and believe me, the three of us took full advantage of this fact. There was lots of action in The Pit.

However, things were slow on this particular weekday evening. Ted and I were just hanging out at home; I had the night off from the radio station, and was tired and wanted to just relax and watch television. Mike had gone out to party solo. With our backs to the door and facing the TV set, we heard him open the door and come in. He was talking to someone with him, but we figured it was another lady he had met at the club. Neither of us bothered to turn around and look until Mike announced:

“Boys, I’d like you to meet Miss Janis Joplin.”

It is hard to convey in writing the exact combination of smarm and ego that dripped from his voice as he spoke these words, but Ted and I looked at each other and rolled our eyes. As I began to turn around, I started to say “Mike, you asshole, you are so full of sh….”

And then I stopped in shock. The Pearl herself was indeed standing in our living room. Janis. Fucking. Joplin.

“HEY GUYS HOW THE FUCK ARE YA!!!” she screamed.

My memory of the next six or eight hours is, frankly, a bit hazy; a lot of dope was smoked that night. I do remember a couple of things quite clearly, however. The first was that while she was funny and very intelligent in conversation, I was stunned at how bad she looked: Janis was not exactly what you would call an attractive woman, and her face bore the marks of some seriously hard living. The second is that she was very hungry. Rooting around our refrigerator, the best I could produce was a package of hot dogs, which Janis proceeded to cook up for us like a mother hen. After we all sat around eating hot dogs and talking for a while, Mike and Janis went off to his bedroom to have sex.

You may have read that this was a habit of hers; she was a sexual adventurer who liked to pick up good-looking guys wherever she went for some hot action, and our lucky friend Mr. Mike was her stud du jour. Being stoned out of our minds, after they retired to the bedroom Ted and I had a great idea: let’s turn off the music and vicariously experience the sounds of their carnal activity through the door (Mike’s bedroom was just off the main living room). I can recall us both sitting there listening to the moans and groans in amused silence, absurd shit-eating grins on our faces. After one particularly intense outburst, I turned to Ted, gestured at the door, and said with absolute, utter, amazement, “Can you believe it? Mike is in there fucking Janis Joplin!” It sure as hell beat the TV that night for entertainment.

They emerged from the bedroom around midnight or so, and at that point Janis decided she wanted to go to a beach. She called some people who were staying on the island with her; they met us at the house, and we proceeded to pile into Ted’s car for a short drive to a secluded beach that I knew of, which was one of my favorite places. This is about the point where my memory of the evening begins to fail completely; hey, it was thirty-seven years ago. I don’t recall her friends at all, and Janis and Mike kind of stayed by themselves. We all swam naked, but it was too dark to really make out any anatomical details. Eventually, Janis and her friends left and the three of us guys returned to the house.

From that day on, though, Mike became an insufferable yet amusing asshole. He was fond of constantly reminding us — like we might possibly forget — that he boinked Janis Joplin. “Mike, I know man, we were there,” I would tell him … and he would say it again. And again. It became sort of a joke, but one that would always make me shake my head and smile. Later that summer, Mike, Ted and I all went our separate ways and haven’t seen each other since. And of course, like everyone else I was very saddened to hear of Janis’ death in October 1970 from a heroin overdose. Judging by the amount of drugs that were consumed on the night I met her, I can’t say I was surprised at the news.

Mr. Toast’s close brush with fame

Monday, May 15th, 2006

Foreword: I’ve been asked recently if I had any contact with famous people during my broadcasting career. In fact, I have met a few notable folks. I shook hands and chatted briefly with Jimmy Carter before he became president, I hobnobbed over a drink with Dan Rather at a broadcasting convention in Las Vegas, I met John Kay of Steppenwolf at a party in New York City, and I once got up on stage to introduce “The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band” when they performed at a concert in the Florida town where I was a DJ at the time.

But in contrast to simply meeting a celebrity, there have been two occasions in my life when I’ve actually spent “quality time” with someone famous. Coincidentally, one of those times also ranks as the single-most embarrassing moment in my life. Here is that story.

-o-

When I first moved to St. Thomas (US Virgin Islands) in the summer of 1968, I had just dropped out of college at the half-way mark. My grades were terrible, largely due to the fact that I was spending virtually every waking moment of my life at school working for the campus radio station. Music and radio had become my calling, and minor things like studying, classes and exams seemed like a trivial bother in comparison. Consequently, my schoolwork declined to the point where I was politely asked by the administration not to return the following semester without remedial catch-up tutoring to improve my grades. This was known as “pro”, or “being on probation”. It’s a very small step above “flunking out”, but not by much; most people who go on pro don’t return.

Needless to say, my parents were less than pleased by this turn of events when I returned home from college in mid-May. My father repeatedly reminded me what a failure I was, and how his hard-earned money spent on my tuition had been wasted. Home was not going to be a pleasant place to spend the summer.

Coincidentally, my sister was at home for a visit then as well. Nearly ten years older than me, she was cool in ways that I could only hope to be someday. At that particular time she was a fashion model, living in St. Thomas with her boyfriend-photographer who shot pictures for tourist brochures and other advertising. My sister! A model! Living in sin! On a tropical island! I thought this was sophisticated enough to begin with, but because my father was even more appalled by this fact than he was about me dropping out of school, it only cemented my sister’s ultimate hipness in my mind.

We hadn’t seen each other in quite some time prior to this, and for several nights, she and I stayed up late talking about my predicament. I didn’t know whether I wanted to attempt to get back into college or not; I wasn’t even sure what I was going to do for the summer. It was then, after several beers had been consumed, that she spoke the fateful words: “Well, why don’t you come back to Saint T with me for a couple of months until you figure something out?”

Imagining a scene of swaying palm trees and beautiful sandy beaches populated by gorgeous babes in bikinis, I jumped at this opportunity. Over the protestations of my father, a week later I was looking at this view from my sister’s balcony:


Life was good.

There was one small problem: while I was living rent-free with my sister, I still needed money for sundry expenses (read: alcohol) and felt that I should at least compensate her for feeding me. Clearly, a job was in order. Since my most recent experience had been as a DJ, I thought I’d try the local radio station first. Cobbling together my meager resume and an aircheck tape, I headed off to one of only two stations on the island, WSTA.

Fortunately, I happened to stop by WSTA at a uniquely auspicious moment. The station had just been sold to a gentleman by the name of John Dale, who was the former manager of New York City’s WNEW. Mr. Dale had moved to St. Thomas for his retirement, and being somewhat wealthy, decided to buy the station mainly as a rich man’s toy to occupy his time. He brought with him a big-city appreciation of how “good radio” works and what it’s supposed to sound like. Upon his arrival, the station had no format to speak of, but consisted of mainly calypso music and soul tunes in no particular order. While this was fine with the locals, much of St. Thomas’s population at any given time was comprised of tourists, and Mr. Dale wanted music that they were familiar with as well, in order to entice advertising agencies to buy time on the station for national clients. None of the station’s staff knew much about this “rock and roll” thing except that it was what a lot of statesiders listened to. Mr. Dale was looking for someone with radio savvy who was familiar with the music.

At about that moment, I walked in the door looking for a job. I was hired virtually on the spot.

After a couple of months of doing a shift from 10 AM to 2 PM and playing this new music, my show started to get fairly popular. My antics on the air were very different from what most folks had been used to previously, and I became known as “The Crazy White Boy”. By this time I was the station’s music director as well. We still played calypso and soul during the rest of the day for the locals, but my midday program was an oasis of rock and pop, or what was then called “top 40″. It was still pretty mild by any standards … The Fifth Dimension, Petula Clark, The Monkees, Neil Diamond, Johnny Rivers, that sort of thing. But then Mr. Dale became interested in a new kind of music that went by a variety of names — some called it “progressive rock”, others called it “underground”, or “AOR” (album-oriented rock). His buddies back in New York were telling him it was getting pretty popular there, so we decided to try it out on WSTA. However, we also thought it would be better in the evening instead of the middle of the day, so my shift moved from six to midnight. I started playing album cuts by artists that many people had never heard before … Steppenwolf, Blood Sweat & Tears, Spirit, Jethro Tull, and Led Zeppelin, for example.

This music in its late-night slot attracted a whole new audience. For the most part, the locals didn’t get it; it was just too far out and different. But many of my listeners were tourists and ex-pats who were used to hearing these bands back home and simply couldn’t find them anywhere else on the radio in the V.I. People called in to make requests and comments, and I struck up some friendships over the phone. One of these was a lady by the name of Lee, who liked the music I played and would tune in almost every night. She worked for a man named Norman Willock, who had a place in St. Thomas but traveled a lot, and employed Lee to take care of his house when he wasn’t there. Now, calling his place a “house” doesn’t come close to doing it justice; “luxury resort” would be more like it. This huge, multi-leveled, white art-deco mansion was right on the water with its own private beach, and had a gorgeous outdoor patio overlooking the Caribbean. (Years later, it was sold and turned into a villa-style hotel called Lime Tree. A fire on New Year’s Eve 1999 caused extensive damage, and after several subsequent remodelings it’s today known as Bluebeard’s Beach Club.) As it turned out, Norm could well afford it: he was a partner along with legendary rock impresario Bill Graham in New York’s Fillmore East concert hall, although I was unaware of this fact at the time.

Anyway, Lee had asked me to drop by Norm’s place one afternoon, as she had a tape of some new band that she wanted me to listen to. I knocked at the door, and a lanky long-haired-hippy kind of guy answered. Lee wasn’t there right now, he said, but was due back shortly. He introduced himself as Spencer, and asked if I would I like to come in and wait for her. I said “sure”. We walked onto the patio, where a pretty girl with long dark hair was seated. She had on a long flowing peasant dress, nothing gaudy or pretentious. She looked like any other typical 1968 hippy-chick, and casually told me her name was Grace. I said hello, and the three of us sat down to talk. As was the custom of the time, a joint was produced and passed around; when that one was gone, another was lit up. It was some particularly good shit, and before long you might say I was seriously stoned. As in, wasted, ripped, totally blown away.

Things got increasingly animated and hilarious as time went on. I was having a great time with these two freaks, just ordinary folks who liked to party and listen to music. So it was altogether natural that at some point, “music” became the topic of conversation, and I happened to mention that back in high school I used to play for a band. Spencer said he played drums, which of course, caused me to ask him The Question:

“So, man, you ever play in a band?”

Pause.

“Yeah, man, you ever hear of the Jefferson Airplane?”

For just a moment inside my muddled brain, it seemed like time stopped: the world hesitated in its rotation and there was … this deafening silence. The realization of exactly who I had been hanging out with for the last several hours slowly seeped down into my consciousness like coffee through a filter. My face flushed, I was vaguely aware that my mouth might be open, and either the palm tree outside or possibly the room itself (I wasn’t sure which) was gently swaying from side to side. I looked at Spencer. He looked amused. I looked at Grace; she was grinning at me like a Cheshire cat. They were both waiting for me to say something. After staring at her for what seemed like five minutes (but was in reality just a couple of seconds), I cleared my throat, gestured toward her, and spoke.

“Um, Grace … Slick, right?” I said, trying to appear nonchalant. She nodded, almost apologetically, it seemed. I then said the only words that came to my mind.

“Oh, WOW….”

And then we all burst out laughing.

After getting over my shock and embarrassment, I stayed there for the rest of the afternoon. Lee soon returned, made drinks and sandwiches, and we continued to chat and laugh like old friends. It was then that I learned of Norm’s Fillmore connection, and that he frequently had various rock-star visitors who came down to his place for a getaway from the hustle and bustle of the music business. That evening, Spencer accompanied me to the radio station as my special guest DJ, and we played all of the Airplane’s music. It was great – the highlight of my career. After they left, I never saw them in person again although their promoter did send me some copies of the band’s new releases.

But I will never forget that “Oh, wow” moment. It was one of only two such moments in my entire lifetime.

Next: In which Janis Joplin makes me a hot dog.

-o-

Postscript: I was saddened to learn that Spencer Dryden died of stomach cancer on January 11, 2005 at the age of 66. His last few years were plagued by poverty and miserable luck. Hip replacement surgery left him permanently disabled, and a 2003 fire destroyed his home and all of his possessions and Airplane memorabilia. Soon thereafter, he suffered a heart attack and was told that he needed cardiac surgery. But before this could happen, he was diagnosed with cancer and died shortly afterwards. See more info here, or the band’s tribute page to him. Rest in peace, Spencer, and thanks for the great memories.

Spencer Dryden, 1938-2005

Call your Mother

Sunday, May 14th, 2006

Here’s wishing a happy day and week ahead to all the Moms (& Moms-to-be) out there. Y’all are the greatest!

Comfortable cat

Saturday, May 13th, 2006

I wish I could be this totally relaxed:


Do you think Fuzzy will let me have my bed back by tonight?

Calvin sez…

Friday, May 12th, 2006

I was hoping not to read this

Friday, May 12th, 2006

Cancerbaby’s struggle is over.

Coke Blah-k

Thursday, May 11th, 2006

I’ve recently succumbed to marketing hype and tried the new Coke Blak, “a blend of unique Coke refreshment infused with the true essence of coffee”. Since I am both a Coca-Cola and coffee junkie (yep, I loves me some caffeine) you would think that this new product would be right up my alley.

Professional taste-testers like John Moore at Brand Autopsy use words like “nose” and “finish” to describe this beverage, but I would just have to say that my amateur taste buds were underwhelmed. It was better than I had expected; but despite Coke’s promise of “rich smooth texture and a coffee-like froth”, it tasted to me like a regular coke with coffee flavoring added. Not bad, but not outstanding — and definitely not worth the premium prices (roughly $1.50-1.75 per 8-ounce bottle) being charged for it. It’s being promoted as having “twice the caffeine and half the calories” of regular Coke, but the reduced calorie content comes from the addition of the artificial sweetener aspartame, which to me is what ruins this drink by giving it a noticeable diet-soda aftertaste.

Other opinions of Coke Blak have been even less enthusiastic. Many people outright hate it; one reviewer said it “tastes like twelve miles of ass.” Said another: “The initial cola-excitement was overruled by the flavor of burned Awful House coffee that hasn’t been swapped out since 11pm.” Even those who sort of like it admit that they’re not sure what the occasion would be for drinking it. One taste tester reported, “I can’t see it becoming a regular beverage of choice for me. When I want a Coke, I’d rather have a regular Coke. And when I want coffee, I’d rather have fresh coffee,” which is a very good point. Although I didn’t think it was awful, it would never replace either coffee or Coke for me. I wouldn’t want to drink it first thing in the morning, for example, nor would I want to wash down a pizza with it at night. But I might occasionally sip one with a cookie instead of a mid-afternoon cup of joe.

Bottom line: if you like the flavor of coffee, you may want to give Coke Blak a try. Act fast if you’re curious, however; I suspect this stuff won’t be around for very much longer.

My childhood sweetheart

Wednesday, May 10th, 2006

She has, as they say, been around the block a few times.

One ear is kind of droopy, her hair is matted and worn thin, and she’s really really old — but I still love her a lot.

And for you smart-alecks in the crowd who wish to respond to this obvious set-up, no I’m not talking about Mrs. Toast. Rather, the object of my affection is shown below:

Readers, meet Ms. Kitty Pom-Pom, the stuffed fuzzy hand puppet toy I’ve had since I was a very young child. I would drag K-P-P around with me everywhere I went, and of course always slept with her cuddled up right by my face. I am sure this is the root of my current love of cats.

I started thinking about K-P-P the other day after this post on Priestess of Nothing’s blog about her Blue Doggie, which was inspired by Meander’s question “did you ever have a teddy bear growing up?”. For some reason, I never had a teddy bear, in fact I had very few stuffed animals at all that I can recall. I was a very industrious, mechanical little boy and was much more fascinated by toy trucks and other non-fuzzy things. Kitty Pom-Pom was the exception to the rule. (BTW, please don’t ask how I came up with that stupid name for my little tiny tiger. I really don’t remember, and all I can think to tell you is “kids say the darndest things.”)

Yet all this time, K-P-P has stayed with me. I’ve moved often in the semi-nomadic lifestyle I lived for many years, and there were numerous occasions when, while packing a box, I came upon K-P-P ignominiously stuffed in a drawer and wondered, “why the hell am I still holding on to this bedraggled thing?” But, into the box she would go with a shrug, down the road to my next destination. She’s about the only physical object I have left from my childhood, and after a while she became representative of those innocent days: throwing her away would indeed be throwing away a small part of myself. Even now, I can close my eyes, hold her close to my face, and remember how her company helped me to not be afraid of the dark shadows in my room at night when I was little. I can still hear the faint mumbled voices of Milton Berle, Sid Caesar and others from downstairs, on the old black-and-white television set my parents would watch for an hour or two after they put me to bed, and smell the decaf coffee my dad liked to brew up for a nitecap. That’s a powerful legacy for a little stuffed tiger, but K-P-P wears it well.

So now, let me pass this thread on to my readers. Do you have a favorite stuffed toy from your childhood? Do you still have it? Pictures!

The meaning of life

Monday, May 8th, 2006

First off let me apologize for the pomposity of this post title: “The meaning of life”, indeed. Hah! Like I could possibly figure out something philosophers, scholars, stargazers, and ordinary folk have pondered for millenia. It’s all relative anyway: what’s meaningful to one person may be absurd to someone else, depending on the culture of their homeland, their family, religion, or personal values, to name just a few factors.

So now that I have prefaced this with the realization that I probably have less than half a clue as to what I’m talking about, let me tell you what I think “life” means to me: being in the right place, at the right time.

We don’t live on this planet in a vacuum; there are millions of other souls on the same journey with us. And what makes the experience meaningful, in my opinion, are the relationships we form with others, how we affect them, and vice-versa. I believe that at some point in our lives — at least once, and likely more often — we will be in the right place at the right time for someone else, and that will give our own lives meaning.

Let me give you an example from a true story I read recently involving a man driving over a lonely mountain pass in southwestern Colorado. It was late at night, weather conditions were poor, and there was virtually no one else on the road. As he rounded a corner, for an instant he glimpsed a flash of something out of the corner of his eye that did not seem right, and it bothered him enough to stop and go back to see what it was. It turned out to be another vehicle that had slid off the road and down an embankment into some large rocks and trees. The man stopped and ran to the car to find a severely injured young woman trapped inside the wreckage. She was only partly conscious, and told the man she had been there for at least an hour or more. Only one other car had passed by in that time, and they didn’t stop because they simply did not see her vehicle off the road in the darkness.

There was not much the man could do for her; he had no medical training, and his cell phone did not work out in the wilderness for many miles in all directions. He offered to go get help, but they both knew it could be hours before any emergency personnel could get there; with the extent of her injuries, she would not last that long. So instead, she asked him to stay with her so she would not be alone. She told him of her family; she was Native American, and had been on her way to see her parents in New Mexico. She asked the man if he would deliver a message to her mother and father: she wanted them to know that she loved them, and that she was at peace and not afraid to die. She also gave the man other specific messages to pass on to her family. Not long after this, she succumbed to her injuries.

Even though it was some 400 miles out of his way, in the opposite direction from which he had been travelling, the man didn’t hesitate for a moment. He drove straight to her parent’s house and delivered the messages the dying woman had given him. Despite their grief, her parents took great comfort in knowing their daughter’s final thoughts, and were very grateful to the man for what he had done for a total stranger.

In short, he was at the right place at the right time — and I think this is what it’s all about. At some point in our lives, something similar will happen to us all. It may not be nearly as dramatic as the above story, but it will be life-altering in some way for you or someone else. It may still yet await you, or it may have already happened. By some extraordinary coincidence, perhaps you have met the person who has changed your life, and it has resulted in children who would not have existed had it not been for whatever bizarre quirk of fate or series of events put this person in your path. Indeed, it may happen a hundred times; someone will need you, and you will be there for them, or some circumstance will change just by the fact of you being there that will profoundly affect another’s life. We often take this seeming randomness for granted, but I think it goes to the fundamental nature of what makes us sentient beings, and hints at why we were put on this earth.

If that’s not “the meaning of life”, I think it’s at least a clue.

Who will be in the right place at the right time for you?

Catblogging: Lewis update

Friday, May 5th, 2006

Happy CatBlogging Friday, and a special welcome to Carnival of the Cats readers. You may recall that a few weeks ago, I wrote about Lewis the Cat, who had been placed under “house arrest” in his home town of Fairfield, Conn. for allegedly attacking several people including the local Avon lady. I promised you an update, so here it is.

Owner Ruth Cisero, who is facing charges of reckless endangerment in connection with the incidents, appeared in Bridgeport Superior Court on May 2nd before Judge Susan Reynolds. The judge made Cisero an offer of probation on the endangerment charge — but only on the condition that she would agree to put Lewis to death. This stipulation was demanded by neighbor Maureen Bachtig, one of the alleged victims.

Cisero refused, saying said she would rather leave Fairfield than have Lewis killed. The judge continued the case until May 23rd. Following Tuesday’s hearing, Cisero’s attorney Eugene Riccio told reporters, “I’m going to do everything I can to keep my client from having a criminal record and to preserve her cat’s life.”

Lewis’s plight has received international attention. There have been reports that some of the alleged victims may have provoked Lewis by pelting him with eggs or by squirting a water hose on him, which has outraged cat lovers everywhere. Supporters of the feisty feline have created a Wiki page for Lewis as well as his own site on MySpace, and he has even spawned this funny bit of fake news on Phat Phree.

Most importantly, more than 500 “Save Lewis” T-shirts have been sold to raise money for a defense fund for Cisero. I’ve already ordered one, and I urge CotC visitors to check out the site and consider helping out as well.

One reason I am sympathetic to Lewis is that he bears an amazing resemblance to our new cat, Fuzzy. See if you agree:

That’s Lewis on the left, and Fuzzy on the right. I realize many Tuxedo cats look similar, but the likeness really is uncanny.

I also think Cisero’s devotion to Lewis (even at her own peril) is admirable, particularly in our culture that so often treats animals as disposable. I’m always amazed to hear stories of people who turn their cats over to shelters for what seem like trivial excuses: they shed, they claw the furniture, they’re too much trouble, they got new drapes and the fur color doesn’t match, or whatever. Many times they’re just abandoned for no reason whatsoever. Any true cat lover reading this blog knows that our “furbabies” are a real part of our families, and we could no more easily give them up to be killed than if they were our actual children. I could understand those who want to destroy Lewis had he been a pit bull who had mauled someone to death, but whatever damage he may have inflicted has been merely superficial — just a few bites and scratches. He doesn’t deserve to die for that, especially if he was provoked in the first place as Cisero alleges.

I’ll post additional updates on Lewis as they become available, but in the meantime please consider buying a T-Shirt to help support him and his owner. Thanks.

For those new to CatBlogging, Carnival of the Cats is a weekly roundup of cat-related posts and pictures. The Carnival is hosted this week by Pages Turned beginning Sunday evening.

Mr. Toast Fails to Grasp the Concept

Friday, May 5th, 2006
HAPPY CINCO de MAYO, everybody!!


What?

(Comic © 2005 by Dan Goodsell)